Golson, Fuller, and Morgan Honored at Fall Convocation
At the annual convocation on September 14, Berklee welcomed the class of 2003 and awarded honorary degrees to composer Benny Golson, trombonist Curtis Fuller, and music educator Robert Morgan.
Many of the seats in the Berklee Performance Center were filled by the nearly 800 entering students. In his remarks to the audience, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Steven Lipman detailed the demographics of the entering students. The youngest is 16, the oldest is 54, and they come from all across the United States and from 44 foreign countries.
Vice president for Student Affairs Lawrence Bethune gave an introduction to the Berklee community. "We are a community of tremendous breadth and diversity--cultural, musical, and age diversity," he said. "Berklee is a crucible of musical ideas. All music is welcomed here. Don't close up; open up. Pursue your dream with your mind, ears, and heart wide open."
President Lee Eliot Berk presented the first honorary degree to Dr. Robert Morgan, retired director of the Houston High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. Berk called Morgan a "champion of jazz education" and described his many achievements in music education over the past two decades. "Under his tutelage," Berk said, "many young students have honed their skills sufficiently to enable them to go onto higher education in music and to pursue successful music careers. His program has become a national model for the successful training of young jazz musicians."
Accepting the degree, Morgan stated, "For years, I was privileged to have teaching positions that were rewarding and I have received other awards along the way, but nothing has been more rewarding than receiving this degree from Berklee tonight."
Before bestowing the degree upon jazz trombonist and composer Curtis Fuller, President Berk described him as "one of the most technically gifted and distinctive trombone stylists in jazz." He also gave details of Fuller's work with jazz luminaries John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Lester Young, and fellow honoree Benny Golson. Accepting the honor, Fuller told the audience, "Many people have helped me along the way since my childhood in a Jesuit orphanage in Detroit. I never knew it would culminate in this. I hope your musical ambitions will be fulfilled just like mine have been."
Composer/arranger Benny Golson also received an honorary degree. President Berk chronicled Golson's spectacular career from his early years as a saxophonist and composer for Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, and Art Blakey to his years as a top film and television composer in Hollywood. "Among jazz musicians," Berk said, "Golson is renowned for writing classic jazz tunes like 'Killer Joe,' 'I Remember Clifford,' 'Whisper Not,' and others. Music he penned for such shows as 'Mash,' 'Mannix,' 'It Takes a Thief,' Academy Awards broadcasts, and Bill Cosby's latest series is familiar to many." Berk also noted Golson's many contributions to education and to American contemporary culture. Taking the podium degree in hand, the gracious Golson said, "This is not something I will soon forget. It is encouraging that after 50 years in music, I can still be encouraged."
Next, 24 student musicians directed by Berklee's Yo Team production staff presented a rousing, 10-song musical tribute to the honorees. Among the concert's many high points were r&b renditions of Beatles' chestnuts "We Can Work It Out" and "Come Together" sung by vocalists Bethany Wright and Kevin Bachelder respectively. Julie Mahendren interpreted Golson's poignant "I Remember Clifford," and David Wilson sang the Kenny Loggins hit "I Believe in Love."
Members of the Berklee Jazz Rock Ensemble and soloists Karin Harris (trombone), Bob Reynolds (tenor saxophone), Aleksandra Samsonova (piano), and others deftly navigated selections like Golson's "Stablemates" and "Killer Joe" and Curtis Fuller's "The High Priest." Vocalist Michael Harris's last, soaring, high note on the finale "I Believe I Can Fly" sent audience members home with smiles on their faces. With the close of the curtains on the BPC stage, another academic year opened at Berklee.